As far as topical monsters go, zombies have always been the go-to for addressing social issues. Unfortunately, it’s hard to make zombies memorable now that we’ve experimented with fast zombies, smart zombies and various takes on zombie apocalypses and dystopias.
Enter The Cured, which eschews the apocalypse and the dystopia in favor of reclaiming the norm. The film takes place in Dublin, four years after an outbreak of the MAZE virus turned whole swarms of the population into mindless attackers. 75% of infected people have been Cured, including protagonist Senan (Sam Keeley) who is being released back into society (the other 25% are Cure-resistant and are kept under military guard perilously close to the city). The central conceit of The Cured is that Senan and the other Cured survivors retain the memories of what they did during the infection, which means they must deal with the shame and the nightmares. That’s all before the external threats: despite being given a clean bill of health by the government, the Cured must contend with fear, distrust, and isolation from those who were never infected and aren’t afraid to voice their displeasure.
There’s very little subtext in the way that writer/director David Freyne frames the conflict. It’s not only easy to read the Cured as victims of racism or xenophobia, it’s practically encouraged. Visual cues include crowds picketing wire fencing outside of housing compounds and anti-Cured graffiti sprayed on doors and walls, including the home of Senan’s sister-in-law Abbie (Ellen Page) and her young son. None of this sits well with Senan’s former roommate Conor (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor), a member of the Cured who was once a barrister and now can only secure work as a street cleaner. Conor’s sense of entitlement accentuates his disillusionment with society’s treatment of the Cured, leading him and a few others to form an activist group whose goals and actions quickly shift from political to violent.
It should be clear by now that The Cured is more of a social drama with occasional horror undertones. Similar to like-minded BBC series In The Flesh (which tackled almost the exact same subject matter and is well worth checking out), The Cured is most interested in exploring how social cohesion is threatened when disparate people and divergent beliefs are put in a pressure cooker. For the most part, this is a compelling narrative angle to explore, particularly given the current political climate. There are still scary moments, however, specifically whenever Senan flashes back to an incident during his infected time that casts a dark shadow over his relationship with Abbie and his nephew. These jump scares are accompanied by the typical horror musical cues (a little too familiar) and anticipate the third act of the film, when political ambitions are exhausted and exchanged for a fairly rote zombie film with the usual requisite chases and bloodletting. Alas by the time a few predictable double crosses cause the streets to run with blood, the film has overstayed its welcome and many viewers will have already lost interest in the outcome.
Performances are uniformly good, particularly Vaughan-Lawlor, whose Conor walks a thin line between justifiable outrage and deranged narcissism. Leads Kelley and Page aren’t given too much heavy lifting to do, though wary audiences can rest assured that Page, who also executive produces, does not attempt an Irish accent. Less successful is Paula Malcolmson’s subplot as Dr. Lyons, a scientist working on the remaining MAZE infectees. Unfortunately, Lyons never rises above the two-dimensional plot line she’s trapped in, forced to repeat ad nauseam the mantra that Senan is cured and he can make of himself what he pleases.
One final minor delight are the remnants of propaganda posters scattered throughout the film. While The Cured is decidedly not a dystopian apocalypse, the posters strongly evoke 1984 and Nazi propaganda in their campaigns to identify, treat and stamp out the MAZE virus. It’s a subtle, but memorable bit of set decoration that helps to flesh out the world and establish a sense of history. The Cured may not be the killer new zombie film that horror enthusiasts are thirsting for, but it clearly still has its brains.